Some Hillfarmers

Carnedde | Thomas, Joseph | 222 acres | 1849
[Carnedd = cairn]

Glonc or Glouc | John Williams and Richard Newell | 395 acres | 1848
[Glonc/Glouc = ?. Owned by the Trustees of Samuel Chambers]

Lluest Uchaf | Evan Jones | 62 acres | 1846
[Lluest Uchaf = highest dwelling. Owned by Thomas Matthews]

Assembling Here

ArchExcSitting here at my desk in the English West Midlands I contemplate a small patch of upland Montgomeryshire. This small piece of Wales that my attention dwells in is toponymically identified as ‘Y Glonc’ – assuming, that is, that the Ordnance Survey cartographers have dropped those six letters and their space in the right place on the 1:50,000 scale Landranger 136. [1]

In the act of naming arguably¬†this patch of land has been given some physical limitations and although these limits may be uncertain we can certainly limit the area that was named such to a few dozen acres at most. [2] It is this limitlessness or limit-haziness that makes the question of place (for that is what we are dealing isn’t it?) particularly interesting and relevant to my project. Place has permeability even if viewed in this strictly physical ‘real’ sense – there is no black/white boundary line just a hazy blurring into the neighbouring toponyms of Esgair Cwmowen and Garreg-hir.

We name for power (frequently in the form of ownership) and this power (and ownership) may be just the power of recollection – ‘do you remember that lovely holiday we had in X?’, and so on. Or, the defining might be part of a legal process that certainly will have a red line drawn on a plan but of course then we argue how far above and how deep below does this ownership penetrate. Despite these variations, somehow the naming becomes a gathering and does define a place even though there are overlaps but it defines it for a particular audience. Of course, the naming might be completely wrong to local people as an outside agency comes in and utilises a micro toponym to denote a vast area or perhaps simply mis-spells the toponym.

The naming slips. The placement of place names on OS maps frequently varies between scales and editions and the words literally seem to slip across the charted landscape. This slipping increases perhaps when the language of the place name is not English and the precise definition of the toponym is lost; there is no obvious feature to append the name to and so it slides between cwm and mynydd. As with so many of these discussions the toponyms become more about the namer than the named. What did they see as prominent in the landscape to make it all a grey heap? What stake did they have to name it after themselves particularly where geological feature and human name become combined – a marriage between species, between man and land.

What I want to say is that there is so much more here at stake than an area outlined on a map or framed by a picture. Even in the physically limiting definitions of a place there is uncertainty that is brought to landscape an act of assembling that aggregates different features for different parties. No longer do we go to the fixed place to picture it. Instead a place grows durationally out of its landscape like a more-than-human, multi-stranded version of Bergson’s incomplete elastic being teased out by so many different ‘hands’. [3][4]

I will have to continue this another day as I’ve missed out a lot of what I set out to discuss


[1] For those wishing to look more closely locate grid-reference SO 000 990 on the OS Landranger 136. Ordnance Survey. Landranger Map 136 – Newtown & Llanidloes / Y Drenewydd a Llanidloes. Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 2002.

[2] On the 1:25,000 scale OS mapping ‘Y Glonc’ is also applied to the ruined(?) farm that sits on the SE side of the ridge. I have yet to establish the etymology of the name Y Glonc but the Ordnance Survey have been using it since the late-1800s and it could be that the name of the land derives from the farm or vice versa.

[3] For a full explanation of the ‘more-than-human world’ see: Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books, 1996. 13-15.

[4] Bergson, Henri. An Introduction to Metaphysics. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912. 13-15.